BRACE YOURSELF. Things are about to get personal.
I was 22 and had just finished a semester
of novel reading at University. As was my custom at that time, I went to groom for Canadian show jumper Hugh Graham at KingRidge Stables for the summer. Those first few weeks back in the barn full-time were always rough. Out of shape from all that, er, studying, I was exhausted by day 10. It’s important you know that because this whole situation might have been avoided if I’d been a bit fitter. And better coordinated. And/or clever-er.
THE INCIDENT happened while I was preparing a poultice for a sore backed horse at the ‘Caledon National’ horse show in Palgrave. If you’re not familiar with the Ontario circuit, EMG hosts eight ‘A’ shows a summer there. EVERYONE GOES.
That particular day was cold. I remember because I plugged in the portable water heater before I rode, thinking it would take a long time to warm up. Three hours later that five-gallon bucket of water was hot. Steaming hot. Another 20 minutes and it probably would have boiled.
Now, a more discerning person might have paused to consider the wisdom of moving such a bucket. I did not.
I picked up the handle and carried it across the aisle and into the groom stall, which is when my spur caught the rubber mat. I fell backward, dumping the entire contents on my right arm. And, as I hit the mat, felt the scalding water rush up my back.
Do you know what extremely hot water feels like on cold skin? FIRE. It literally feels like you’re burning alive. In 0.3 seconds I was on my feet and tearing at my clothes like I was being attacked by a swarm of bees. Spastic flailing ensues. Expletives are used.
Let’s hit pause in that dramatic moment and rewind to the night before. Remember how tired I was? Well, 26-hour workdays leave little time for laundry. By week two, my clothing situation had become dire. I had time for one load after night check. Prioritizing undergarments, I put my entire collection in the wash.
Then I closed my eyes…just for a second…
When the alarm went off five hours later I had 10 minutes to get ready and a load full of soaking underwear to choose from. Desperate, I dug through my dresser and, deep in the abyss of tangled under things, extracted one very large pair of black high-waisted panties. With frayed elastic edges. And the tell-tale sheen of cheap polyester. I’m not quite sure how this specimen of female shame came into my possession. Probably it was a misguided remnant from my teenage years. But it was obvious from their thread bare state they’d been there a long while.
I can say with certainty I had never been so happy to see such an enormous pair of underwear in my entire life. They were clean! AND DRY!
And, together with a tank top, they were the sum total of what I was wearing as I stood in the barn aisle, howling from what would later be diagnosed as second degree burns. The pain was second only to my humiliation.
The commotion drew a crowd. Someone called the paramedic. Strangers shouted out helpful advice (get the Uptight!). And all I could talk about were the really pretty underwear I had at home. Pink ones with bows…a black lacey pair…
By the time the ambulance arrived, the entire show grounds had stopped by to witness my mortification. Including Eric Lamaze.
I can’t say those oversized underwear made it out of the hospital. (I was sent home in an ironically similar gauze version usually reserved for surgical patients.) I will tell you this: A little piece of me died that day. And I’m pretty sure it was the cool part.